Vezzoli’s global recognition is certainly keyed to the “trailers,” which are complex and ambitious works in themselves, advertising his non-existent scent “Greed,” remaking La Dolce Vita, or promoting Gore Vidal’s Caligula with intense cinematic performances by actors like Dame Helen Mirren, Michelle Williams, Natalie Portman, Cate Blanchett, Benicio del Toro, and Courtney Love (she’s amazing by the way) in his coterie of A-list collaborators. But it’s also his opulent and gorgeous, symbolism-laden, dimensional, devotional, and emotional needleworks in very fancy frames that speak to the deeply personal nature of his obsession with fame. In both cases, he deftly interlaces past eras, from Rome to the Renaissance to the red carpet, with a contemporary vernacular that both celebrates and deconstructs the present moment in Western culture. He is currently one show into a mammoth three-city project called “The Trinity” in which a mid-career survey dovetails with new works across venues in Rome, New York City, and Los Angeles. With this, he seems set for world domination.
You’ve recently opened a show of your needlework portraits in Qatar, including images of Nicki Minaj, Carla Bruni, and other controversial and sexually expressive celebrities. No offense, but this seems like it would be the last thing they’d show in the Middle East. What was that experience like for you? There were conflicting aspects in local religious and moral habits, but that made me even more flattered that they wanted to show my work. It was a win-win question; they were willing to bend a little to have the opportunity to show something so different. It was a reciprocal challenge, and I feel the art world industry these days provides so few real challenges, because anything goes. Also, I soon realized that it was a place where no one knew who the women were that I was portraying. Joan Crawford, for example, or Grace Kelly or Italian Countesses—they had no idea about any of them. In Qatar, for the average viewer, it was just a room full of crying women. When I started showing this work, people were shocked by the interaction with celebrity. In Qatar, all of that crumbled beneath my feet. So I responded by making new works for the show, portraits of Umm Kulthum, a very famous 20th century Egyptian singer. I did a needlepoint series imagining her Western career, as a way to address the culture I was visiting. Geographical and national boundaries are opening up everywhere.
Speaking of geographical boundaries, as “The Trinity” progresses from Rome, where the first part is already open at MAXXI, the second part is happening at MoMA’s PS1 in New York. Are you really moving a whole church across the ocean? Yes! Basically I am so afraid of New York City critics; I’m like a snail bringing my own shell to hide in. I’ve always been happily misunderstood in New York City. We are dealing now with construction regulations building codes, but it should be on site by the end of January or early February 2014. Jessica Chastain did a video (my first video work in a long time) promoting the show. She was like Tammy Faye Baker, crying, weeping, begging people to go to the museum. It’s wonderful!
You will be assembling all the video works in May 2014 at MOCA in Los Angeles. What are your thoughts on showing the Hollywood work in Hollywood? Everything is about the creation of that fantasy that says, “I want to belong, I want to get laid, I want to get past the mysterious velvet rope.” I have lived in L.A., and I’m very aware that my own fantasies of Hollywood are the dreams of a provincial kid. I have loved Hollywood more than myself; its ongoing love story of fear and desire. The MoMA curator Alma Ruiz has been exceptionally supportive. I’ve found the right woman once again! Together we will do the Hollywood take, show all the old videos. Hollywood is a machine of dreams. A great many artists have used the existing images of movies and such but somehow I had access to the actual players, and we could make new magic. Perhaps sometimes outsiders are capable of seeing things more clearly. .